I met Charles Kennedy once. I also met Benito Mussolini.
One of these statements is true. The other one is a bit of an exaggeration, but not as much of an exaggeration as you might think.
They buried Charles Kennedy at Clunes the other day; and in another life I was very attached to that part of the Highlands marked out by the West Highland Railway with its stops between Fort William and Mallaig. I met the woman I'd have married on the platform at Glenfinnan station some twenty years ago; and when she was not of like mind I kept in touch with the area anyway, becoming a member first of the Friends of the West Highland Lines and latterly, Friends of Glenfinnan Station.
We were having the Glenfinnan Station AGM a couple of years ago when, quite without warning, Charles Kennedy walked round the corner and joined us. At this point, although Dear Miss Landau (DML) had been published and I was getting used to being around celebrities without going on an adrenalin trip, it was a wee bit odd suddenly to be making small talk with a man who could have been prime minister. What impressed me most was that he'd come along on his own initiative in order to take an interest in constituency matters. It certainly made for a more memorable AGM than usual, and I even slipped him a copy of my DML flyer.
At the time, my knowledge of politics was pretty hazy and it took me a few moments to work out Mr Kennedy was the local MP for Lochaber. He did not look in the best of health, but he was alert and on the ball. He was a courteous Highland gentleman.
Flash forward a couple of years and, now more politically aware, I find he was trolled and harassed by SNP cybernationalists with more than a passing resemblance to Italian fascists.
But what would I know about Italian fascism? After all, I was born in 1964. I could hardly have met Mussolini. There's scarcely anyone left alive who's actually met an actual fascist leader from the nineteen thirties or forties.
Now comes the second, very terrible, part of the story.
For three years, in the early nineteen nineties, I did know an Italian contessa who'd been a card-carrying fanatical member of the Italian National Fascist Party sixty years before. She'd been one of the so-called "Golden Ones," the social and intellectual élite who would rule the world.
She had met Benito Mussolini and may even have met Adolf Hitler. She was a cog in the machine of fascism, part of the mindset which produced the Holocaust and literally as fascist as Hitler and Mussolini in her views. She even married a Wehrmacht officer after the war. He divorced her after eleven months.
I had to endure her for three years.
Most people (particularly neuro-typicals) don't like facing up to the unvarnished truth about the darker sides of our own natures. Of what human beings are capable of. There's a lot of "well, it couldn't have been that bad, dear," a lot of denial that the Holocaust happened (I'm very pleased Oskar Gröning spoke up), a lot of titters whenever I said the contessa was as right wing as Mussolini.
It's no joke. She was.
Stephen King summed it up perfectly in Apt Pupil:
"Maybe we know that under the right set of circumstances the things that live in the catacombs would be glad to crawl out. And what do you think they would look like? Like mad fuehrers with forelocks and nose-polish moustaches, heiling all over the place? ... I think most of them would look like ordinary accountants ... Little mind-men with graphs and flow-charts and electronic calculators, all ready to start maximizing the kill ratios so that next time we could perhaps kill twenty or thirty millions instead of only seven or eight or twelve."
Most of us never look right at the creatures in the catacombs, but I will never forget the day I realized what the contessa actually was. It was just a passing thought, really. I imagined her wearing a Gestapo uniform. And then, in one terrible dark moment I knew, really knew, what I was actually dealing with.
The Italian Fascist Party arose out of Italian nationalism and the word fascism (defined as an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government) originated with Mussolini's regime. I've seen a personification of the evil nationalism leads to, and that's one of the real reasons I voted No to the Scottish National Party. After what I saw, I will never be any part of any movement that promotes separatism. I will not go one inch down that road. It may start off idealistically enough, but it taps a vein of jingoism and xenophobia which lies terrifyingly near to the surface, leading to witch hunts and worse.
Which is what happened to Charles Kennedy in the weeks before his death, as reported by the Daily Mail.
The fascist I knew had an overwhelming, utterly ruthless desire to rule and would go to any lengths to do so. She was also extremely manipulative, and read books on psychology in order to control others. She was profoundly selfish and egocentric, but could also be charming. She even pretended to be reasonable at first, but once I was in her power she was relentlessly dictatorial - basically because she thought she was a member of the master race.
The contessa, thankfully, did not actually have much power and I learnt how to outmanoeuvre her, but other fascists easily attract useful idiots to aid their cause. People like Brian Smith, who called Charles Kennedy a "quisling" and a "drunken slob."
My grandfather fought in both world wars. He truly believed the Great War could have been avoided, but that the Second had to be fought. That there could never be any compromise with fascism.
I don't believe there can be any compromise with fascism either. I loathe its exponents and its followers, and I am as sickened by what Scottish nationalism is becoming as I am by what Italian nationalism became.
James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.